Tuesday 31 August 2021

Mental Health in lockdown

has to be discussed. People are saying that. I agree.

But mental health needs to be discussed anyway. I am struggling right now. There have been multiple issues, some of which I am not free to talk about, that have been causing me a lot of concern. 

I know too many other people who are saying that they are not connecting with family or friends because the restrictions on doing so are more than they can handle.  They say the "little things" are not happening. 

Someone phoned me yesterday and when I asked if there was something she needed she said, "I just wanted to talk to someone. I haven't spoken to anyone for four days."  Her neighbours are not at home during the day and over this last weekend they were apparently too busy to check on her.

I know someone else who has struggled with "anorexia nervosa" for years. She used to go out each morning and sit in one of the coffee areas in the shopping centre. The staff knew her and her problem and they would see to it that they chatted to her as they went about their work. Other people would come in and chat to her. She was putting on some much needed weight. The present situation has put a stop to that.

I have four young friends who have been through multiple medical issues together. They have known each other since they were learning to knit as seven and eight year old patients at the children's hospital. My late friend M.... taught them first and I have been involved with them since her death. They are wonderful young people but,because of their medical issues, they have been in what amounts to isolation for months now.  One of them has had major cardiac surgery. They are trying to retain their sanity and some sort of positive outlook on life by knitting for other people. It's been very difficult for them and they are finding it very hard to cope. They naturally envy the other young people they know who are getting on with their lives at least to some extent.

There is no support for people like this or so many others like them. We have handled the pandemic here so differently. I know it has all been done with the best of intentions but the reality is that there are going to be more cases, many more cases. At present we are hiding away and hoping that, if we keep quiet and still, the virus will go away. It's a ridiculous idea. We are cancelling some events but allowing others and doing it in ways that seem to have no rhyme or reason. People are simply giving up. The economy is taking a major hit because work is suffering and businesses are going to the wall. The "keep everyone safe" strategy is not really keeping us safe at all. This morning's paper was sounding the alarm because a Covid positive "truckie" (lorry driver) briefly visited two sites in the state. Contact tracing might or might not be working but how many people have been told to isolate because they might or might not have come into contact with that one person? What are their employers saying?

I don't know how much longer this can go on. The other night I found myself answering back at the spokesman for the US President as she spoke on the news service. She is probably a very nice person but I was so fed up and upset I wanted to shout - and that is not like me.

So last night I took out some of my yarn "stash" and looked at it. The only answer to all this is to make something for someone who needs it, someone far worse off than I am. I've got enough there for a small blanket for someone to snuggle under. Does this sound like a good idea? 

Monday 30 August 2021

The Vietnam born Governor of this state,

 Hieu Van Le, came here as a refugee. He is another outstanding example of someone who came here with what amounted to  nothing and worked his way up to the highest position in the state. What is more he has used his time in that position well. 

I have not met him but I have met his wife, Mrs Lan Le. It was an unexpected meeting but a very pleasant one. Like her husband she has been taking a keen interest in the affairs of the state and they both attended the state's annual "Show" - the one which was cancelled again this year.  Two years ago though we could still have such events and Mrs Le came to look at the Handicrafts area while her husband was being shown other things. 

I was introduced to her so I could answer some questions she had about a particularly fine piece of work. She appeared to be genuinely interested, asking more than one question. When she had satisfied her apparent curiosity she thanked me and went back to a formal luncheon.

At the time I know I thought of how much a role she also had to play.  I have often thought of this in fact. Growing up I was perhaps made more aware of the role partners often have to play in a marriage. My parents both worked full time after the Black Cat turned three. It was a much more unusual thing back then. Mothers often stayed at home at least until their children were at school. 

Even though teachers were not well paid at the time both my parents were being paid. The same however could not be said of the Senior Cat's cousin. He was in the Foreign Affairs department and his wife, like many other wives at the time, was expected to be available to entertain visitors - often at very short notice. 

Eventually B... was posted overseas, first to Africa, then to Asia and elsewhere. They were not easy postings. He was the senior person in some places. His wife was expected to participate fully in each posting. Her role was not just to entertain visitors but to accept invitations, to be involved and interested.

By the time I went to university in the nation's capital they were living there again. B... was head of the Foreign Affairs department. They were still expected to do a great deal of entertaining. I was called on more than once to "even up" the numbers around their dining table. B...'s wife, P..., often entertained twelve people around their long dining table. I met people from all over the world. Some of them were much more interesting than others - yes there were a few who were so full of themselves they were simply of little interest to me or others. I always found people who were prepared to talk about their home countries more interesting than the people who just talked about themselves.  

But P....had perfected the art of appearing interested in everyone. She was an excellent example of "the diplomat's wife". P... bothered to learn enough of a local language to be polite - no easy task when one of them involved five tones. She made it her business to know about local cuisine - and use it where appropriate. She listened to advice about the local cultural niceties.  

There were times when, talking to me, she would throw her hands up in frustration at things which happened. As the guests arrived however she was always the pleasant, welcoming hostess. Like the Governor's wife she knew what was needed and made the role her own. She knew her "place" and it was not as that of B...'s wife but as a person in her own right with her own role to play.

Yes, there are still expectations of some partners in some positions. There always will be because of the nature of the work involved. Surely then what we need to do is acknowledge the work that such supportive partners do?

Sunday 29 August 2021

How to eat porridge

was something my paternal grandfather taught me. He made the porridge in their house.

He would put the oats in a saucepan the night before and leave them to soak. In the morning the contents would be stirred and then put on the stove to cook. The porridge bowls would be lined up and, eventually, we would sit down to eat it.

We ate right around the edge of the bowl first, turning the bowl slowly around so that there was an oatmeal coloured island of porridge surrounded by a milky sea. We were allowed to have milk to "cool it down a bit" but we were not given sugar or honey. 

Scots, good Scots, our grandfather informed us did not have sugar or honey on their porridge. I am not sure that is true of all good Scots but we accepted it. The porridge tasted just fine anyway. 

Now it seems you can get something called "porridge" flavoured with such things as "blueberries" or "apple and cinnamon" or "creamy vanilla", "brown sugar" and "creamy honey". You can apparently have "banana and strawberry" and "chocolate", "caramel" and "golden syrup" too. 

There is no need to soak the oats overnight. Porridge like this gets "cooked" in the microwave oven. Some of it even comes in pots - never having seen those I assume the milk is already mixed in and the whole thing hermetically sealed? 

And this is porridge? All those flavoured varieties must surely be full of sugar too. Do they taste as good as my grandfather's porridge.

I don't know. I confess I cook my porridge in the microwave. There are "quick cooking" oats available now - really just oats that have been ground up a little finer than regular oats. I put them in the bowl. I add milk. I stir. I give it a minute on high and stir again.I give it another minute, another stir and then watch to see the porridge rise like lava in the bowl before switching the power off and removing the bowl. It's simple. There is no need to wash up anything except a bowl and a spoon.

I leave the porridge to cool - with a little cold milk around the edges. It's proper porridge that way. I can't imagine eating the flavoured varieties.

My paternal grandmother just had black tea and toast for breakfast. It was my grandfather who knew about porridge.

Saturday 28 August 2021

Is the President of the United States of America

 really fit to lead the country?

It's a question being asked by some people I know. These are people who had no time at all for President Trump. They do not want to see him back in office - ever. 

But they are Americans who are genuinely concerned as to whether President Biden is well enough. They are worried about his state of health, especially about the fact that at times he appears confused, forgetful and unable to articulate his thoughts on a topic. He is apparently even more dependent than most people in his position on off camera screens.

I don't know the man. I have never met him. It would be a very strange thing if I ever did but I have noticed the same sort of thing and I share their concern. 

Mr Biden is 78. He is well past the age when most people have retired. There are now calls for him to resign and they may not be as foolish as they sound. The problem of course is that it would mean a very inexperienced person would take over immediately. Whether she could handle the role or not is something that is simply unknown. My own thoughts are that she would have to be prepared to listen to people much more experienced than she is in matters such as foreign policy, trade and defence. Would she do it?

It all raises the question in my mind about when people should retire. The Senior Cat's father worked well into his eighties. His business was winding down. He knew that. He would not take on any new customers but he still did work for some he had known for more than fifty years. Neither of his sons went into the business so he did not have to hand it on. He did pass some of his highly specialised skills on to other people but that was all. 

The Senior Cat retired far earlier - and then went on to a second but much more relaxed career making apparatus for his fellow magicians. It was something he wanted to do but he only took on the projects he was genuinely interested in.

I am still working but over the past two years I have tried to cut back on the amount I do. I no longer want to do eighty hour weeks or "crack an all nighter" as my colleagues would tell me. I have been training other people to take over. Where I was working largely alone there are now a growing number of people who can be called on to help. Now that they have some experience we actually get things done more rapidly - and some of them are going to be better, much better, than I ever was  because they have other skills as well. 

I have other things I want to do with my life so this does not make me unhappy about retirement. I have hobbies I want to pursue and I would still like to make another trip back to my other "home" - the United Kingdom even if I have to be realistic about how difficult it will be and if I have to acknowledge that I probably won't see much of the rest of the world. (Get vaccinated please - so I can at least do this much!) 

But does Mr Biden have hobbies? Why would someone his age want to be President if they had other interests? I suppose "power" means so much more to some people than it does to others. It worries me.

Friday 27 August 2021

The suicide bombings at Kabul

airport were expected but that makes them no less horrifying or incomprehensible.

Why do this? How can people do this to other people? You can be sure that those responsible for planning the attacks were nowhere near when the suicide bombers acted. The suicide bombers themselves were people who were brainwashed into believing that they were doing something which would not be condemned but commended, highly commended. 

The cries of "ground attack", "ground attack" over and over again will stay with the survivors for the rest of their lives. You do not recover from something like that. You just learn to live with it after a fashion.

When I was about four years old my paternal grandfather brought two Dutch migrants to visit us in our home in a small country community. It was a very quiet place - usually. These Dutch migrants spoke very little English at the time and I know I was puzzled by the way they were finding it so hard to put their thoughts into words. We were all in the kitchen when the local country fire service alarm went off - calling the men to assemble and help somewhere. The Dutch woman dived under the kitchen table at the sound of that siren.

At the time I did not understand but I did later. All those years after the war her natural unthinking reaction was to find the nearest "shelter" available. She had never really recovered from her experiences. 

I knew her for years after that experience. She never mentioned it again. As a teenager I spent a weekend with them. They spoke Dutch at home, Dutch to their children, Dutch to me. Their children and I answered them in English but I was acutely conscious of a certain tension there. She was still struggling. Although she went on to do a great deal to help others she never really recovered from her war time experiences. 

It will  be like that for so many people in Afghanistan and other places, places like Iraq and Syria and many more. They will always be looking around for a "safe" place even when they are in as safe a place as any of us can ever be. 

Those suicide bombings are not only about the number of people killed or physically wounded or the damage done to internal or international relations. Those bombings are about the psychological damage being perpetrated on people who simply want to get on with their lives, who want to bring up their children and see them succeed at school, at work and - most of all - at life itself. Why does anyone want to deny another that?

My stomach is churning. I want to hug someone. It won't change the situation but, selfishly, I want to tell someone - anyone - I care.   

Thursday 26 August 2021

Losing a child

is something I cannot even begin to understand. I have not had children of my own so how could I possibly understand? I am not a parent.

But I hope I can understand that it must be harder than losing a parent. Our parents are older. Children are younger.

Yesterday someone alerted me to the fact that an acquaintance has lost a child. He lived in another state and the current situation meant she could not even visit him. She cannot even go to the funeral. This mother is someone I know only casually. We see one another in the shopping centre and the library. We know each other "by sight". We acknowledge each other but we have never "had coffee" together. Having heard her talking to other people I do know she was proud of her son and his achievements.

I am glad her friend did alert me. It was a kindness to both of us. 

It brought back the occasion just before Christmas one year. I was in the greengrocer and people were wishing each other the usual "Merry Christmas" sort of greetings. I said this to someone I knew in the same sort of casual way and her response was the devastating, "I'm going to have a bloody lousy Christmas. My daughter just committed suicide." 

Her daughter had post-natal depression. This woman was left with a young grandson to care for, a child who was and is a constant reminder of what she has lost. 

I remember holding her at the time as she sobbed uncontrollably on my shoulder. I was not a friend. She just needed someone, anyone at all, to hold her while she wept. I will be forever thankful to the owner of the shop for quietly moving the other customers away to the other till and giving her the time she needed to compose herself. It could not or perhaps should not happen right now.

We are not supposed to have close contact with other people at this time. We are supposed to "bump elbows", use hand sanitiser and masks, keep a "social distance" and more. All this is supposed to keep us safe and prevent the spread of a virus which can be deadly. I understand and respect that but there is another sort of illness which can be just as harmful and we need to be aware of it. Right now there are many people who need more support than ever. We all need it.

Wednesday 25 August 2021

Buying a shirt

should not be that difficult should it?

I do not like buying clothes. I would rather buy books - or yarn. I buy clothes because I need to be clothed. My favourite "shop" is the local charity shop. If I need something I will go in and see if they have something which will do. 

They get some good things in the shop, things with the labels still attached sometimes. At other times I have found things which have clearly been worn no more than once or twice. That's fine with me. I can take such things home, wash them and then use them myself.

I buy things in there for the Senior Cat too. He shares my view that our money is better spent on books. There have been male shirts in there which have not even been taken out of the boxes they arrived in.

It puzzles me why people would do this. I cannot imagine wasting money in this way.

But buying a brand new shirt for me from a shop in the shopping centre? Me, do that? 

Now I know the women who work in one of the shops. There is usually only one woman there at any one time though. If they need a quick break and I am passing they know they can ask if I can stand there and guard the shop for five minutes. (The centre regulations state that they are not supposed to close the shop but of course people do need to do so from time to time.) I don't mind if I have the time. 

So, once in a very long while, if they know I am looking for something they will give me a wave as I go past and bring out something they have put aside. I bought a shirt in there about eight years ago. It was missing a button and it had been marked right down. It was just the sort of thing I will wear so they marked it down a bit more and I changed the buttons. I've worn it a lot since then. It is now well past being my "best" shirt. There has been nothing in the charity shop  either so I took a deep breath and prowled in yesterday. The entire contents of the shop were "half price". 

I know enough about the "rag trade" to know they are still making a profit at "half price" but I  was prepared to spend some money - well, I knew I would need to spend some money.

I  prowled around the shop while C... was serving several customers. They went away with parcels and then C... said, "Come on Cat! I know what you need. Here, your size."

She held up a shirt. Ugh! Canary yellow? I think not. She laughed and "suggested" a couple of other items she knew I would not want. 

Then, more seriously, she took down a green check affair and said, "I  think this might be more you if you get someone to shorten it." 

I looked at it. Yes, me. It was designed to hang around below the hips of a normal size human. Being a short cat it was almost long enough to be a dress on me . But, I liked the fact that it was actually pure cotton. I liked the feel of it. I liked the colour and the rest of the style.

I sighed and wondered if I could ask my neighbour D... who does sew if she could shorten it to a reasonable length. Would it spoil the "line". C... took it over the counter and folded the end underneath itself. We looked at it. She pulled out a tape measure. She measured me and then measured it.

"It will be just fine. Now you needn't buy another one for a while."

I bought the shirt. I stood there and guarded the shop while she rushed off to the loo. By the time she returned I had two customers lined up ready to buy - shirts. They apparently find it a lot easier than I do to buy clothes because they both bought two each. 

Why do I find it so difficult?

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Empty houses

and we still have people looking for a place to rent?

I know that there are people who have blacklisted as tenants. Their behaviour in and their care of a property has been unacceptable - and often not just to one landlord but to many.  

There are other people who desperately need a place to live and who will care for it. Why then do we have empty houses even when rental accommodation seems to be in such short supply that people are couch surfing?

There is a house at the end of this street which has now been empty for over five years. The old man living in it died. Since then all that has happened is that the grass - it can no longer be called a lawn - has been cut when it grows too high to ignore. We have watched it slowly deteriorate on the outside.

I went in and out of the house when the old man needed some help. It would easily have accommodated a family with several children. There is plenty of room for young children to play safely. It is in a very good area for schools and other services. 

So, why is it still empty after five years? It has never been put on the open market. All the neighbours can assume is that there are probate issues or that the children are clinging to it for some unknown reason.

This is the sort of place which, if not being used should be taken over by a government housing authority and used for emergency accommodation until such time as those responsible for the property have dealt with it in an acceptable way. In this case the house will almost certainly be knocked down because the land on which it sits is big enough for two houses or maybe three "units". Yes, finances might be a problem but is that a reason for the house to lie empty when people with children are sleeping in their cars?

There was a house not much further away which was empty for almost thirty years. The woman who owned it was living in another country. She was apparently no longer capable of giving instructions about what was to be done with it.  Just over two years ago it was knocked down and two houses are now on the property. But for those thirty years before that? Surely it could have been used? 

I know there are problems with all this. Our neighbours to one side were living in Germany for several years. His work had taken him there. Before they left they told us they would be renting out the house. We agreed to keep an eye on the place even though there was an agent who was supposed to be dealing with it. The first tenants were fine. They were simply waiting for their own house to be finished. The second tenants grew marijuana in the back shed. No, they were not noisy or disruptive. The young man was actually very kind to the Senior Cat. He twice helped when the Senior Cat and I could not manage something. What gave the game away to us was the late night visitors and the way they behaved. The tenants moved on before the police moved in. On his return from Germany J.... showed the Senior Cat the evidence the agent had not bothered to report.  That sort of thing is a problem but should it stop other people being housed?

Middle Cat and her husband have a second property which is being rented out. (No,they are not "rich". It is the way they invested the money Middle Cat had saved when she stopped work.) The tenants have been there for years now. They are good tenants.If they needed to move on they would be given a good reference. They know they have responsibilities as tenants. 

I suspect most people do know they have responsibilities as tenants. It might also be that there should be more frequent inspections, that agents should not believe they can simply glance at the outside of a premises as they pass by in a vehicle. If there are problems then there need to be ways of enforcing solutions, particularly with bad tenants. But houses should not remain empty for years when people need housing.


Monday 23 August 2021

Reducing library funding

is not right. It is wrong, very wrong.

One of our local library staff stopped me in the street yesterday to tell me that there has been a move to reduce library funding across the state. They knew I would be "concerned". 

Concerned? I am angry. Do governments have no idea how much our libraries get used.

I know I have written about this before but it really is true that more people use libraries each week than go to a football match. It is also true  that good library services actually save money.

I was in the library on Saturday. The Scrabble group was meeting. I could hear chatter about a word someone had just used and where people had heard the word used in the past.  That is surely helping at least a few extend their vocabulary? It is certainly getting them out of the house, making them use their minds in all sorts of ways. There were also two teenagers working together on a maths problem, a number of people reading newspapers, three younger children sitting on the floor and reading books and at least five primary age children talking together about a book one of them had just read. In among the adult section there were people choosing books, DVDs, magazines and more.  One person I know by sight asked me if I had read a particular book and, if so, did I recommend it. Another person was listening in and asked if I knew something else. 

We all managed to do it in the approved mask wearing, socially distanced manner.  It was the most social contact the first inquirer had been able to have all week. His wife has Alzheimer's and his daughter was at home with her for a few hours to give him a break.

I saw someone else I know has been battling against loneliness and severe depression.  Having the library open has been the difference between being able to stay at home or go into hospital for her. She admitted this to me in the park outside the library. Yes, I'll stop and chat for a few minutes if she wants to talk to someone.

There are book groups and French classes, robotics (a mystery to me but full of young people), book launches, meetings of all sorts and more. Even with all the Covid19 restrictions the library has been busy.  Yes, we have missed a few meetings of our knitting and crochet group but we have missed our not meeting too. Meeting in the library is so good. We have those references to hand!

I know the state government believes that, because we can borrow across the entire system, the book stock doesn't need to be replenished at the same rate. It really doesn't work like that. Readers need books. Watching a small child stagger to the check out area with their great load of books clutched in their arms is a joy. More and more of them can check out their own books as soon as they can reach the shelf which holds the computer terminal.  I have heard more than one sigh of satisfaction as they complete the task.

How dare they suggest that funding for libraries be cut when libraries provide so much?

Sunday 22 August 2021

Fact check, fact check

and fact check again if you are in any doubt at all.

There was an excellent segment on our international news service last night. It looked at some of the myths surrounding the current pandemic and gave people some straightforward information. 

Unfortunately there will still be people who don't believe what was being said there. They would rather trust "Dr Google" or "Mr I Read it in the Paper" or "Ms Friend of a Friend".  

It is easier to do that, especially when we would rather believe the alternative "facts".  It is easier to do that than take the time to seek out the facts for ourselves. Sometimes it is easier to go along with what "everyone" believes. It's comfortable that way.

Life is not about "comfortable" is it?   Surely a "comfortable" life would also be very dull. That's not to say that it isn't good to have the things we need in order to live - although they are surely less than we like to believe - but that we retain our curiosity. 

I wonder sometimes if we are in danger of losing our sense of curiosity and whether we will cease to make progress on the issues which matter to most of us. I also wonder why we are so ready to believe the worst case scenario when a situation is presented to us.

A family friend recently complained to me that his grandson had "pulled the whole thing apart" - of a toy he was given. My question was, "Did he put it together again?" The answer was "most of it I suppose". I then tried to gently suggest that perhaps this was a good thing. His grandson wanted to know how something worked. Instead of being angry at the apparent destruction of the toy it would have been good to sit down with him and help him put it together again. I don't think I convinced Grandpa. Instead his grandson has been left with the message that curiosity is not a good thing.

I was trying to explain something to young T.... across the road the other day. He listened and he asked questions. His, "But why does it do that?" was a delight even though I was anxious to get inside and turn off the gas under a squealing kettle.  Questions like that need to be answered if it is at all possible. It means he is likely to look for real answers about the things that matter.


Saturday 21 August 2021

A message from Kabul

came through on the email this morning. It was addressed to several of us and was smuggled out by someone who has been fortunate enough to be able to leave.

It came from someone I have never met and am never likely to meet. My only contact with her has been because she was working in another part of the country and needed some communication device assistance. She was sent to Kabul in the belief that she would be safe there - and she is not safe.

I really don't know where to start with something like this. Here is a good woman who was teaching young girls with disabilities in her own home. It was just a small group. Her family supported her in this. Her husband had even helped to build some of the very basic equipment she was using. 

About a week ago her husband was murdered by the Taliban. Because he could speak French and English the Taliban believed he was a spy for the Americans. M.... also knows French and English and, had she returned home that morning, she would also be dead. A family friend alerted her to what had happened and then helped her leave for Kabul. People thought Kabul was going to be safe. 

Kabul is not safe. If she is caught she will be killed. That is something she does not doubt. Her French contacts are doing what they can but the reality is that she will not be able to leave.

Although I have never met her this makes me feel physically ill. Here is a teacher who wanted to give a small group some hope, someone who simply wanted to give something to a small group of girls who would have been disadvantaged anywhere. It might not seem like much with all that is going on there right now but for M... it is everything. 

The Taliban have not changed. Their press conferences are meaningless. People like M... are being left with no hope.

Friday 20 August 2021

Saving a life

when you are not a doctor must be a rather extraordinary experience. Even just helping to save one must surely make the person or persons responsible feel something positive. 

I am wondering about this for two reasons. One is that Middle Cat is back in hospital.  There is no need for panic. She is going to be okay. My doctor nephew, who is staying with his parents at present, was actually at home at the time. He dealt with the situation. It made him rather late for work but his boss was very understanding. It might not have been "life-saving" as such but it did mean that Middle Cat was not left lying on the floor for some hours.  I thought about people in life-saving situations. I have dealt with a few medical situations but never a life and death one.

Of course the Senior Cat is worried. When I managed to get the energy together (post-Covid19 jab number two reaction) I went to see him. He was lying down and said, "I'm okay - just didn't sleep much last night. I knew why. He was worried. I can understand that.

The other reason for wondering about this is the good news story in the paper this morning.  A young woman with Down Syndrome has Covid19.  She is apparently twenty-two and still a lover of  "the Wiggles". The story is about how they were called on to help when she didn't want to use oxygen, the oxygen which would help to save her life. They stepped in and made a special video clip for her to show her how it was done. She is now recovering.

I know there will be people who will say, "Why did they bother? She's retarded. She isn't a contributing member of society."

Stop right there. That young woman may not be a nuclear physicist but she is a contributing member of society. The photograph shows someone who is smiling, for whom that gesture is something very special indeed. She may not be able to express it in words but her absolute delight is there in her expression. She has given as much back as has been given to her. 

Within her own family, for all the many problems there must be, she is almost certainly a very affectionate girl. It is something many people will find hard to understand but I have no doubt that her family loves her. Why else would they go to those lengths to get help for her? 

When I was first at university I heard one of the research staff talking about her work observing children in institutions. She made the point that these apparently unloved children were actually loved - loved by someone. It was what gave purpose to their lives and the lives of other people - and it might actually save lives too.

Thursday 19 August 2021

Going out alone

is something we take for granted here. Women do it all the time - most women.

Yesterday I left home mid-morning. I went to visit the Senior Cat - and return his washing. Then I pedalled off to the clinic to have my second Covid jab. I was wearing a head covering - the compulsory helmet and a face mask because of the current risk. 

But, my hands were free and I was - shock and horror - wearing jeans. 

I did a little essential shopping on my own.

On my way home I stopped for a moment to speak to someone. He had spoken to me earlier and asked for some information for his wife.  Yes, he's a man. He is not related to me but I spoke to him anyway and I did it while I was on my own.

Nearer to home I spoke to the couple who were  coming back from the railway station with their young granddaughter.

Now if I lived in Afghanistan it is likely that once again I would have had to wait until a male relative was ready to take me to the clinic - if it had been decided that I would be allowed to have the vaccination and it was available and they had been prepared to pay for it. Nothing else would have happened under the Taliban's version of "Sharia law". I would have been escorted there, escorted back and required to do precisely as I was told and without complaint. If I did not then my male relatives would have the right to beat me. Disobeying outside the home could lead to twenty-nine lashes in public. I would be a disgrace. I would have brought shame on my family.

Anyone who believes that the Taliban are not going to reinstate their old ways is being seriously misled. They will. 

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Getting the second jab

is on the agenda today. 

I am hoping that I will feel better post jab than I did after the first one. My doctor's advice was to "take a couple of Panadol about twenty minutes beforehand" - and I will. Apparently this lessens the likelihood of having the migraine like three day headache I had last time. I certainly hope so. But, I will still have the jab because this virus is vicious.   

All this has brought back strong memories of my kittenhood. I have said elsewhere in this blog  that my mother was a "Christian Scientist".  Her parents were as well. 

It is a tiny sect, not to be confused with "Scientology", which fortunately seems to be growing smaller. Both are very dangerous. 

"Christian Scientists" do not  believe in any sort of sickness. It is considered to be an illusion. They therefore do not believe in vaccinations.

I sometimes wonder what my mother really believed because she chose her closest friend to be my godmother. My godmother was not a Christian Scientist. She was a member of what is now the Uniting Church - the Presbyterian branch back then. My godmother was also a nurse - a midwife.  

It was at my godmother's urging that my siblings and I were vaccinated against various diseases as the vaccinations became available. The Senior Cat authorised those vaccinations and he and my godmother who saw to it that we were vaccinated. It was a source of serious tension between my parents but we were not made aware of it. My godmother made me aware of this when I was able to make my own decisions about my  health. She was a wise and sensible woman who was concerned not just for me but for my siblings.

When I was a mere kitten there were two quite sizeable congregations of "Christian Scientists" here. As children my siblings and I were, while living in the city, forced to attend the Sunday School on alternate Sundays. My mother also tried to force our attendance at the equivalent of the "youth group" but we  successfully rebelled against that. We preferred the group at the local Presbyterian church. We knew children from school there but it was more than that. We felt comfortable and secure there. People knew us. They knew our paternal grandparents well. The activities were different. 

What would it have been like if we had stayed in the city and my mother had continued to expect us to attend her choice of church on Sundays as we grew  older? I  suspect it would not have been too long before we had been seriously rebelling. My brother, at the age of eight, was already questioning what he was being told. I know I encouraged his thoughts.  It must have been very difficult for the Senior Cat who was caught between parental unity,  his own beliefs, and our ever growing disbelief in what we were told. 

I knew those jabs for poliomyelitis were important though. We lined up at school to get our "booster" shots. I don't remember anyone in my class not getting those booster shots. There may have been a few but there was no anti-vaccination nonsense at school.

I will be keeping that in mind as I visit the Senior Cat this morning and then head off to the clinic for my second jab. Perhaps it is time to remind my generation that vaccinations really do serve a purpose?


Tuesday 17 August 2021

Leaving Kabul

right now is incredibly difficult, if not impossible. 

A colleague of mine left Kabul about eleven weeks ago. He is a very experienced aid worker who had elected to remain there. Somehow he survived being shot at and a bomb blast less than a kilometre away. He performed surgery while surrounded by men who had their rifles pointed at him to make sure he did what he could to save a fighter who was almost certainly the Taliban. 

But he could see what was coming and he made the decision that it was time to go. He loves the country. He speaks the language well enough to be understood. The local people held him in very high regard but they were urging him to go "before it is too late".  

Now he is on his way to own home country and worried sick about the friends he left behind. He emailed me in distress at the thought of what would happen to the women and the children at the hands of the Taliban. 

"Don't believe them when they say they have changed," he told me.

I don't. I never have. Groups like that don't change. Young girls will only be educated by their own mothers - those who can read. They won't be able to leave the house without a male escort. They won't have careers. They will be forced into marriages and expected to breed - breed boys rather than girls too. Women may be told they do not need to wear the burqua - but they will be expected to do it. Gatherings of more than two or, if lucky, three will not be allowed for fear that they will plot against the Taliban.

All those pictures of people "cheering" the Taliban on are what the Taliban would have us believe is real. The reality is very difficult. People are in fear of the Taliban.  Those old enough to remember when the Taliban was in power last time know that this time it will be even worse. 

I don't know enough about the strategies of war to know if things would have been any different had the Taliban at least initially stuck with the agreements made in Doha. I doubt it. Perhaps things would have been a little less chaotic but that is all. The Taliban want complete control. They want to rule over a country using the strictest possible form of sharia law. To them that is the only way forward. Nothing less will do. 

All we can hope for is that discontent among the Taliban themselves will result in some sort of power vacuum which others can take advantage. But that is a long way in the future - and it may come too late. 

Monday 16 August 2021

Masks are silencing us

or at least keeping us from communicating easily with one another.

There is a piece in this morning's paper from a former journalist. He still writes the occasional column for the paper.  Over the years he has written a great deal of good sense.

He is now getting rather hard of hearing, deaf if you wish. His column this morning was about the extra difficulties faced by those who have increased problems hearing what is being said because people are wearing masks.

I am acutely conscious of this. I am extremely fortunate that my own hearing is currently fine. At the same time I know many people who have problems brought about by hearing loss. 

I know people who have a mild hearing loss. For them it is a source of irritation. People don't speak up. People don't articulate clearly. Sometimes an accent will throw them. 

There are people with a moderate loss who depend more than they realise on reading people's lips as well. If they are in a well lit place and someone is facing them they are able to communicate easily enough, even well.

A more severe hearing loss will often have them thinking they should be thinking about getting their hearing tested. Yes, it often reaches that point before people do anything about it. Getting used to hearing aids at that point is still possible but it can be difficult.

There comes a point where people really do need those hearing aids but it is much harder to learn to tolerate them. It really isn't a matter of just putting them in and communicating normally. It requires work. Even with that work not everyone can tolerate them.

And there are the much more severely affected who, even with hearing aids, are not hearing what those of us with good hearing can hear. For them communicating is a much harder task even when people are not wearing masks. It's a daily struggle. 

Lastly there are people I know who have a profound hearing loss, who depend heavily on being able to see people's faces and ultimately on sign language.

Not so long ago I met a woman who is living here for a couple of years. I admire her courage. She is profoundly deaf. She relies on sign language. Her husband is a hearing man who comes from a family where he was the only hearing child of deaf parents. M... can communicate quite freely with him. She can communicate with almost nobody else. She would have a problem even with the deaf community here because sign language differs between us and Canada. It was only with extreme difficulty that I made myself understood in a small way. She is intensely lonely here and it would be far worse without the internet and an application which allows her to use a mobile phone with her husband and her family.  

We can email each other now but even then I have to be aware that the way she uses English is not the way I use English. Her syntax is sometimes awkward.  There are words I need to be aware she may not know even though she has a degree in mathematics. 

Her difficulties have added to my awareness of how much people with any hearing loss are missing out on. I am already aware that people are chatting less to each other in the supermarket, the shopping centre, the library and just out in the street. Too many older people tell me I am the only person they talked to today and say "But take that thing off so I can hear what you are saying".  The Covid19 virus is having an untold effect on their capacity to communicate. It has made me wonder what is happening to tiny babies who must remain in hospital and who are not getting the stimulation of seeing and hearing the voices of their parents. What effect is that having on their language development?

Hearing loss can be very, very isolating. If the rest of us feel isolated in the current circumstances how must people who are already isolated in so many ways feel?  

Sunday 15 August 2021

Going to high school

or secondary school this year is going to be different for many students in this state. They will be starting a year earlier than most of those who went before them.

It was one of the peculiarities of education in this state that primary school ended at the end of year seven, not year six. The move to end it at the end of year six was long overdue. By the time they were going into year eight many of those students are far more mature than my generation was. They need to be. The world is a different place.

I started school when I was four. Back then you started school in the year you turned five or soon after. My birthday comes at the very end of the year. I was actually barely four when I started school. 

The decision to send me to school was undoubtedly made by mother. She had my toddler brother and four month old Middle Cat to look after at home. There were days when she would be called very early in the morning and asked if she could do a day's relief teaching as well. That meant asking the woman who cared for my siblings to be available as well. It was all part of living in a tiny country community.  I don't quite know how my parents managed all of this but obviously it was easier to be rid of worrying about what to do with me. I could read. I went to school.

Of course that meant I went through school being a great deal younger than everyone else in each class I was in. It wouldn't happen now.  It would not be allowed to happen now. In the dim, distant past it happened because nobody had any other way of handling children like me in circumstances like that.  It was not ideal. 

Now delays to starting school are more common. I went to "kindergarten" for a while. From memory it was for just a couple of hours a week.  I did not like it. School was different. I was not fond of it but I was allowed to read there - rather than have someone read to me. I was allowed to write stories in my daily diary. I could do the sums and more.  Now most children go to "preschool" and they do a lot of what I did at home and that other children did when starting school. My parents were teachers. They educated me from the day I was born. 

I wonder now how those students going into year seven will feel next year. Will it be something like it was for me when I started school? They will be the very junior fish in the big pond high school. There will be some sharks circling.  

While the structure of the days might change somewhat for children in rural area schools it is not going to be so different for them. They will be going to the same school with the same friends and often many of the same teachers. In the city though it will mean a new school and perhaps new friends. My great-niece in another state is going to a new school, a "selective" high school. She is considered to be mathematically able and likes the subject. The school will allow her to pursue that interest, if she wants to. But she will be the only girl from her school to go there. Is she nervous about it? Yes, but in a healthy sort of way. 

Most students here though will head off to their new school with some students they  already know. If they are mature enough they will have each other for support. Good teachers are going to be aware of that - and the need for it.

But I think I am glad I am not one of those students. I am not sure what the future holds for them - and I am not sure I would want to find out. It's going to be more difficult for them than it was for us.  

Saturday 14 August 2021

The Replanting Australia project

is another victim of Covid19. Right now it is struggling to survive - but I hope it will if we can give it a bit of "intensive" care.

For those of you who don't know about it this is a project which started as a response to the bush/wild fires on Kangaroo Island in the summer of 2019-2020. (Kangaroo Island is the island at the bottom of this state - near the part which looks a bit like Italy.)  

The fires burnt out over a quarter of the area which is home to an incredibly valuable Ligurian bee population. They are very, very important because the world's bee population could depend on the survival and expansion in number of these bees. 

Those of us who normally work in Handicrafts at the state's annual Show  thought the Show could be used as a venue to raise interest in the problem of rehabilitating the landscape to help the bee population. I went ahead and designed knitted blanket squares - hopefully not your average boring garter stitch blanket square. There are camels as well as koalas, the Indian Pacific railway, the Royal Flying Doctor Service, surf, desert, the wine industry and more. A good friend designed a square which is an outline of the island. Some patterns for the squares went up on the Showground website, those and others went up on a Facebook page called "Replanting Australia".  All this took several hundred hours of my time and other people have put in a few hours as well.

We set up a competition for this year's Show asking people to design their own squares. We hoped to get at least enough to make several good size blankets that could be raffled off in a lottery at the Show.

The Show has been cancelled. We need to find another way of doing this. If you are reading this and you did knit a square we would still like to have it. Next week we are going to see if we can still get enough squares, put them together and raffle them off for funds for the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park's rehabilitation work. I am also going to see if there is a way of publishing the patterns to raise funds because they can't stay on the Show website forever.

But, we are going to need some help. We are going to need those squares....please! 

Friday 13 August 2021

They have cancelled the Show

three weeks out from the event.

Up until now I have been happy to accept the need for lock down procedures and other precautions. I will shortly have my second Covid19 jab. I have been wearing a mask in public places. I have been checking in as required. 

Many other people have been doing the same thing. The results have been good in this state. We have had some cases but, touch wood, there has not been a major outbreak. 

The state's Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society Show was cancelled last year. It's the state's premier agricultural event. It is of enormous importance to farmers and all rural people. It is where rural people meet and compete. It was a devastating blow but people wore it believing it would be a "one off" decision. 

That it should happen again is too much. It was not a decision of the RA&HS. It was a decision of the health authorities. These are the same health authorities who are allowing the football to go ahead with such big crowds. It seems football is more important than agriculture. 

As I am involved in a very small way as a volunteer at the Show I know something of the work that had gone into planning an event that was designed to be as Covid-safe as possible. It was not easy. The Show is an extraordinarily complex event in some ways. In more normal times it can attract 50,000 people a day. SA Health said no more than 10,000 people and that meant it was not financially viable. This was despite the fact that a good deal of what happens does happen outside or where the numbers in and out of buildings could be easily controlled.

All that planning has come to nothing. 

Will next year be any different? The reality is that it probably won't be. We will still have cases of Covid circulating in the community. It will almost certainly be the Delta variant or a new variant. It is unlikely vaccination numbers will be high enough because too many people still think vaccination is "not that important". Our economy will still be taking a hit.

 In the midst of all this we need to think about our farmers and livestock people. We need to think of those whose livelihood depends on the work these people do. Cancelling the Show might be disappointing for many city dwellers. For the rural community and for the Show society itself it is devastating.


Thursday 12 August 2021

Getting vaccinated

is still not being taken seriously by many. 

After a discussion with a member of the medical profession I am in the fortunate position of having been able to bring forward my second Covid19 jab by five days. That means it will be twelve weeks and a day after the first one.

I want to have it. I would have it tomorrow if I could. This virus frightens me. 

The Senior Cat has had both jabs. Middle Cat, her husband and my nephew who lives here have all had their first jabs. My nephew who lives in one of the neighbouring states was offered an opportunity to have the Astra-Zeneca jab even though he is well under the recommended age of 60. He took it and is now fully vaccinated - something of a relief in a state which is in the throes of a ninth "lock down". 

My other family in yet another state are either fully or partially vaccinated. None of them want to take the risks associated with not being vaccinated. 

There is a good family friend who comes to help me two hours once a fortnight. He does all the heavy jobs I cannot manage in the garden. We pay him of course but I am still immensely grateful for the help he gives. I also listen and sympathise when he tells me that his daughter is an "anti-vaxxer". She lives in the United States and is apparently happy to rely on everyone around her being vaccinated - even though she has young twins. It worries him and it worries his wife. It worries me too because I hate seeing them so worried.  

I know there have been issues with availability here. My second jab was only able to be brought back because availability has increased somewhat. I can now get it at our medical clinic. I can get it because I will have to mix with people I do not usually mix with in the week following that. Yes, I will wear a mask. I will use hand sanitiser. I will take white cotton gloves with me too - just in case. I am going to be "sensible" but I know there is still a mild risk. I am looking at it like any other activity and trying to balance the risk with the activity.  

I also know I can take action to minimise the risks involved - and I am doing it not just for me but for everyone around me.  

Wednesday 11 August 2021

Death by magpie

is extremely rare. Until two days ago there were two directly attributed to attacks by magpies. One of these was a case of tetanus from the resulting wound and the other was a head injury. Now there has been a third caused by a magpie swooping on a mother carrying a five month old infant. The mother fell and, in doing so, fatally injured the child. It must be a very, very difficult time for that young mother. Just how she will cope with all bird life is hard to comprehend.

Accidents caused by magpies are more common. Magpies are very territorial. They do swoop. They will peck.

When I was at university in Downunder's capital one of the professors was terrified of magpies. We used to arrive at almost exactly the same time each morning. If he saw me he would always ask about the local magpies in swooping season. I kept telling him to wear a hat or carry an umbrella. He still lived in fear of the magpies.

Perhaps it had something to do with an injury to another member of staff in the same faculty. N.... rode a bike and, like me, was in danger of being swooped on unless certain avoidance measures were taken. One afternoon however he had to give a lecture to a group of doctors elsewhere. This was before bike helmets were compulsory and N... pedalled off to the venue. On the way he was swooped and pecked on the head. He arrived at venue bleeding copiously from the head wound and one of the doctors he was addressing had to render first aid before N... could start. After that N... wore a helmet on which he had painted two eyes at the back. He was not pecked again while I was there. 

I wore a helmet anyway. I have been swooped but not hurt. I slow right down at a point where I know there is always a nest. It might now save me but it lessens the risk.

Magpies are a protected species. You may not kill them. Some people feed them in an attempt to prevent being swooped on. I knew cousins who lived together. The older of the two could put tiny pieces of minced meat on her finger and the magpies would take it from her. They liked grapes and other food as well. Every morning they would appear and demand their "breakfast". It is not something I would encourage but other people do it as well.  Even that won't necessarily stop them swooping although it may reduce the tendency.

The professor who was so frightened by magpies was well known for his fear of them. If he missed seeing me outside the building and then saw me inside he would ask me for a "magpie report".  

Why me? He thought I was more aware because I pedalled. I didn't drive.

But the good professor could also laugh at himself. Someone had cut a cartoon from the paper and put it on his office door. He had left it there. It had appeared during the Commonwealth Games and showed a man running, Underneath was the caption, "Magpie assisted world record disallowed."   

Tuesday 10 August 2021

Climate change and car use

is what should really be under discussion in this country.

I have never owned a car. I don't know how to drive one. I admit that it would be very nice to own a car. It would be very nice to simply walk out the door, open a car door, get into the driving seat and go wherever I wanted to go. 

As it is I have to plan my journeys around whether I can get there via tricycle and train. I need to think about whether my journey is really necessary if I am relying on a taxi or Middle Cat's "taxi service". I try very, very hard not to accept rides from other people. Over the years people have offered to take me to meetings, to events and other activities. My first question to myself has always been "Can I do it myself?" If I can then my answer has almost always been something like, "Thank you for thinking of me but I can get there." 

I know, it's stupidly "independent" of me. I do occasionally accept a ride somewhere of course. I will do it if I really need to be somewhere and I am doing something for someone else once there. I will do it if I need to carry more than I can safely take in the basket on the back. Once or twice there have been people who have lived at most two or three streets from me going to the same event at night. There was the day I was teaching something and the temperature was forecast to be over 40'C. (The event should have been cancelled but was not.) I accepted a ride from someone who altered the way she usually went but was not going to drive much further, if at all.

All this has never had anything to do with climate change because I have done it all my life. I am aware that, as grow older and even less mobile, I am going to need to accept more offers - if I really need to go somewhere. While I can pedal somewhere it is my intention to do so.  I need the exercise.

But all this makes me aware of the way other people do things. I am aware of how many cars there are on my regular routes. I tend to know how many families own more than one car. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I know how many families own just one car - very few. Almost every person I know of driving age along my regular route to the library and the shopping centre owns a car. That can sometimes mean as many as four cars for one household.  

I wonder if this is really necessary? At the risk of sounding really ancient and geriatric I have to say that it really was not like that when I was in my teens.  Very few teens or post-secondary students owned cars. They rode bikes, used buses and trains or simply walked. Now they expect to own cars.

All sorts of excuses are used to justify the need for one. Apparently you need one if you work at a part time job or you play sport. (Maybe you do need to work - to pay for the expenses of running the car.)

 I pedal past the car park at one of the local state high schools and the cars in the student car park range from "beat up old things" to BMW's. My brother went to the same high school and cannot remember any student owning a car. A lot of them still had to go to things like footy or cricket practice after school and then get home afterwards. 

I know "electric vehicles" are supposed to be the environmentally friendly way of the future (although they are not as environmentally friendly as we are led to believe) but perhaps we really need to think about overall car use. There is much more to it than simply swapping from fossil fuel to electric. We need to think about how car dependent we are as a society. We need to invest much more in rail between major destinations and design ways that will make it preferable to use public transport.

If the Covid pandemic has done nothing else it should have shown us that relying on cars to get us where we need (and want) to go is not the answer to climate change issues.

Monday 9 August 2021

The Census

has been completed and submitted. I will be here on Tuesday night - at least I have every intention of being here on Tuesday night. If something untoward should happen then it really won't make a lot of difference.  I could tell someone. There are ways around these things, legitimate ways.

There are people who do not take the Census very seriously. They should. 

All my working life I have been involved in research of one sort or another. I actually did my first piece of research while I was at school. It wasn't anything special. 

There was no school librarian in our school. I was one of the "library monitors". There were four of us. Only one of the others did much to help. Our role was to do things like cover any new books with the long rolls of brown paper backed plastic, put books away and check the borrowings. 

The teacher in charge asked me one day whether I had any idea what sort of books were being borrowed the most. It was something I could guess at from what I returned to the shelves but I could also actually work it out from the borrowing cards. I told her this and she told me something like, "Well keep a list until the end of the term. It will give us some idea."

I knew that meant there might be some money about to be spent on new books. I was prepared to work for that and so was the other girl who did the most to help.  

The idea of just a list didn't seem terribly useful though so I divided it into fiction and non-fiction and then I divided those into "picture books", "easy",  "primary" and "secondary". I left it in the staff room, in the "pigeon hole" of the teacher responsible. 

The only response I got was something like, "That's very useful Cat. Thanks."  At least that is the only response I got then but some weeks later the travelling salesman from the bookshop in the city did his annual round. At lunch time that day the teacher responsible for the library called me in to the staff room and showed me some books on the table. We could get a number of these and she asked me if I had any ideas about what we should get. We might not get what I chose but she was interested. I can remember saying to her that we should get a certain book "because the little kids are always borrowing the other one by him".  

We did get that book and it was borrowed just as much as the first one had been. I knew about it because, like the Census, I knew what was wanted and needed. I had found out. It wasn't something I wanted to read myself but it was something the younger children did want to read. 

It taught me something about doing research even then. My methods were not really that methodical at all. It was just curiosity and the belief that a little bit of extra effort might be useful. It's why the Census is useful.  We rely on it for future services.

Sunday 8 August 2021

The pay gap

has widened again. Covid19 has seen women doing more for even less. It is largely women who have done the extra housework and the extra child care, including homeschooling, during lock downs. Women have lost more employment than men too. 

I was interested and more than a little disturbed to see a claim that the female employees of a certain politician in this state were being paid less in his electorate office than some of his male employees. I am disturbed because I would not be at all surprised to find that the same is true in the electorate offices of other MPs.

I once spent some time working for an MP. It was not something I planned to do. I did it as a favour to his secretary, someone I knew and liked very much. She was, like the secretary of many other MP's, a Justice of the Peace. I was involved in some very complex international negotiations to help get what became International Literacy Year off the ground. H...witnessed my signature on countless documents because of these negotiations. I owed her a lot. I went to work for the MP for some weeks. 

It was long enough. It taught me a lot about politics, political parties, the way parliament and government work...and I mean a lot. I didn't like a lot of what did learn. H....had warned me I wouldn't like it and I was grateful for the warning.

I remember one evening I still had not been able to leave the office because the MP still wanted me there at seven in the evening. ("That was early Cat. He sometimes keeps me much later than that!") I will admit he did apologise because he knew I had to pedal home. Thankfully it was going into summer and light enough to do that. 

I jokingly said to him, "I'll have to charge you extra." He laughed and it led to a conversation in which I told him how my parents had started their teaching careers two years apart. My mother started on 11/9s a week and the Senior Cat started on 13/6s. No there had not been a pay rise in between. Women were simply being paid less for doing the same job as men. What is more when women married they had to resign and then be re-employed. They lost any long service leave and sick leave they may have accrued and their chances of promotion were also severely reduced.  

At the time the Senior Cat accepted that state of affairs although he admits it did make him feel uncomfortable. It was the way things were then. And yes, when many women did not go back to work after marrying, perhaps the extra pay made a sort of sense for married men whose wives were not working... but what about everyone else?

S.... listened to all this in utter bewilderment. He knew nothing about the pay gap that existed when my parents started their careers. Several days later I told his mother, a feisty woman if ever there was one, how I had told him about this. She roared with laughter.

"So pleased you did that! He needs to know that sort of thing."

 S.... was the state's treasurer at the time. It made me wonder what they taught in economics at university. 

Saturday 7 August 2021

Racial slurs

are not acceptable. They must not be tolerated. 

I have a very good and obviously indigenous male friend. I have known him almost all my life. If we see one another we will normally hug.  The only thing that has ever stopped us is Covid19. 

We met unexpectedly in the city one day and he gave me his usual bear hug. I returned it.  A complete stranger objected to all this in a very racist manner. M.... and I looked at one another - and then hugged each other again. 

We have had a few looks of surprise, dismay, disgust, and more over the years. M... tries to shrug it off. He's been living with this all his life. It still hurts though. People do treat him differently because of the colour of his skin. It doesn't matter that, in his employment, he rose through the ranks of the social welfare system to the point where he had many staff under him. It doesn't matter that he is still consulted even though he officially retired several years ago. There are still people who think he is incapable, that he only got to where he did "because he's aboriginal". They believe he didn't earn his way up the ladder through sheer hard work, extra hours and much more.

I miss his mother, R....  R... was like a second mother to me. I wept when she died. I wept my way through her funeral and barely managed to say the piece I was asked to write. I loved R... I love M... and his sister. They have been and still are the best of friends.

M... and I  have discussed the issue of racial slurs. He is of the view that society needs to look a little further at name calling, that it is not just racial slurs that need to be addressed. He is of the view (and yes, I asked him whether it was okay to say this) that the attention being given to the issue of racism now is making the problem worse, not better. 

"We aren't entitled to any more or any less than anyone else," he will tell you, "But there are now people who believe they are entitled to special treatment because they see themselves as different."

M.... worked for years with teenage boys in trouble. Most of them were indigenous and, as he put it the difficulty was, "Getting it through their thick heads that they are nothing special and they need to behave and work for it." Of course he came across racial prejudice in the police force but he was of the opinion that, if you were behaving yourself, you were not generally going to attract attention.

"You are entitled to special treatment only if you cannot do something for yourself or so that you can do something for yourself," his mother R... used to say.  (I was as much the recipient of that as her own two children. She once threaded a needle for me - but she made me sew the button on myself because I could do that.) 

R... made sure we understood we needed to treat ourselves with respect in order to be treated with respect by others. That in itself won't stop racial slurs or insults about disabilities but it can provide a sense of self worth that helps us deal with it.

Friday 6 August 2021

Quarantine or croissants?

Apparently there were "queues around the block" in another state, not for Covid testing or Covid jabs but for croissants. This was in the capital city of another state at a time when people were supposed to be staying at home except for a few essential reasons.

I really am puzzled by this. You would risk everything for a croissant? Perhaps it is because I do not actually like croissants. I don't much care for brioche either. Both are too rich for me. I certainly would not be queuing up for either at any time.

But why on earth would you queue up for a croissant when you are supposed to be in lock down? Croissants are not bread, certainly not the sort of bread I prefer. I like whole grain breads, breads with seeds, breads which have some taste and texture. Croissants rate along with the cheap, square, white sliced loaves in my book. 

Yes! I know! I am sorry if you like croissants but I would rather have a bread roll. 

There is a cafe not far from here where they sell "ham and cheese croissants" and I know people who say they are "the best". On a rare day out several years ago I had lunch in the cafe with someone else. They had the ham and cheese croissant. I had an egg and lettuce sandwich made from very dark rye bread. It was so filling I could only eat three of the four triangles. The person I was with ate the fourth triangle. I wondered how filling the croissant was. It was also more expensive than my sandwich. 

But, back to queuing for the croissants? Well is a croissant more important than your health? Is it more important than the health of other people? 

I know the police were out and about. Did they move any of these people on? Did they tell them to go home? I know they fined some people in other parts of the city. Did they do it there too?

Now yes there is a problem with all this. Bakeries were permitted to be open. Bread is considered to be an essential purchase. Was the bakery selling bread as well? I don't know. I do know that people were not queuing for bread. They were queuing for those croissants. It all seems very strange to me. 

Our local bakery is on the outer part of the shopping centre. They have had strict rules in place about  how many people can be in the shop. If someone tries to violate those rules they will be politely but firmly told to leave. If it has lost them some customers it has gained them others. It's a popular place. They don't need to make "the world's best croissants" to do well. 

People don't need to buy "the world's best croissants". I am sure they are very nice - if you like that sort of thing - but they are not essential.  I think I will stick with the appropriate "social distancing" and good bread. You can have my share of croissants.   

Thursday 5 August 2021

Wearing a mask

does have an effect on the way we communicate with other people.

"I can't tell what people are really thinking," someone on my regular pedalling route told me yesterday. I had stopped to drop off some empty jars for her marmalade making. My plan had been to just leave them at the gate as she requested but she was collecting her bin from the curb so we chatted for a moment.  

Knowing she is quite deaf I had stopped a suitable distance from her but looked at her so she could see what I was saying as well. Yes, I know it is a problem for people like her. I think (and certainly hope) there is more awareness in the community about the difficulties people like her face when people are wearing face masks.

But it does affect the way other people communicate with each other too. I have noticed that conversations in public places tend to be much shorter when people are wearing face masks. Some people seem to be more impatient too. A friend asked me, "Why is it like that when we are face to face but it doesn't seem to happen when we are talking on the phone? We can't see faces then." That's an interesting question too.  

When I go in to see the Senior Cat I have to wear a mask. In his room I remove it so he can see what I am saying. That is within the rules but the staff working there are supposed to keep their masks on. The Senior Cat can understand some of the staff, not others. Those who come from other language backgrounds and for whom English is a second language are the most difficult for him to understand. He would find them difficult to understand anyway but he admits he loses a lot when he is unable to see their faces. He is getting far more information than people realise from being able to see not just their lips but their entire face.

I know I am relying more on people's eyes to judge how they are feeling or might be reacting to what I am saying. As another friend complained to me, "You can't see a smile behind a mask!"

You need to work harder at communicating when someone is wearing a face mask. I know that. But I also know that people often wear other masks. They aren't always visible. They hide all sorts of emotions. I hope that all this physical mask wearing has reminded me of the emotional masks we all wear so often. That "Are you okay?" question seems even more important right now.  

Wednesday 4 August 2021

$300 to get vaccinated

is now being suggested by the leader of the Opposition. Good idea? No. 

We should not be paid for doing the right thing. Yes, it is the right thing to get vaccinated if we can. It protects us. It protects the people we love and the people with whom we come into contact. It also protects that small minority of people who are genuinely unable to be vaccinated because of medical issues.  

I don't really need to say any of that because most people know it already. The problem is that some who do know that still are not making any effort to get vaccinated. They shrug their shoulders and say they will wait. They let the Opposition make political mileage out of it. 

And now the Leader of the Opposition is actually encouraging people not to get vaccinated. That's right, not to get vaccinated - yet. He is telling them, "Wait until after the election. We will be in power and we will pay you to get vaccinated."

It is irresponsible in the extreme. I know there have been "incentives" in other parts of the world too. There have been lotteries, cars, food, holidays and more. "Come along and get vaccinated and you have a chance to win...."  

I am far more in favour of the idea of some sort of vaccine registration - passport if you wish. If you want to go to the footy or the cricket, if you want to travel interstate or overseas, if you want to work in certain areas of employment - then get vaccinated unless there are genuine medical issues against it. 

The Senior Cat's residence requires people to have had the annual 'flu jab if they want to visit someone living there. Middle Cat and I complied. We would have had it anyway but I am more than happy to comply if it helps to keep vulnerable people safe. It's the responsible thing to do.

The anti-vaccination crowd don't see it this way. They believe their rights come before the rights of other people. Yes, that's been said in plenty of other places too. I'll say it again though because I would like my family and my friends and even the people I don't know or don't particularly like to be as safe as possible.

Now I admit that $300 would be useful. Money is always useful but my health is more useful. Surely most people must think that way? 

It makes sense to preclude people from activities if they refuse to get vaccinated. It makes no sense to pay them. What is more if everyone was given $300 to get vaccinated it would cost the country around $6bn in the end - and that would come out of our taxes. 

Tuesday 3 August 2021

Is it true?

I did some research yesterday. It was real research. I talked to several people who have first hand experience of the problem I was looking at. I asked questions of them. I looked at some research papers where other people have asked similar questions. I looked at their sources of information.

When I had finished doing all of that I sent off two emails to the two people who wanted to know what I thought we might be able to do about something which is related to the first problem. I told them what I had done. Both of them expressed surprise at the way I had answered their question. I responded that I felt it might actually save time.

Now I have to confess that I don't normally go to these lengths. There simply isn't time. Like everyone else I have to rely on the honesty of other people when I am trying to inform myself. It is not easy.

I have been "trained" to do "research". In other words I went to university. I was "taught" to "think" about a problem and how answers to it might be found. I found out about things like "sampling", "questionnaires", and "statistics" in the social sciences. All this was supposed to help me to answer questions and search for information.  And yes, it does - up to a point.  

I still have prejudices. In this case it is the belief that many people with disabilities need more help with communication skills. Yes, I do have concerns about the review which is about to take place and my research yesterday confirmed my concerns. There will be people who say that my own research was designed to confirm that belief in the need for more help and perhaps it was. What I hope is that I made a convincing case for it. I hope that people will say, "Cat thinks X because she looked at "A" and "B" and "C". She talked to people."

It's the best I can do for now. I could do an entirely new piece of research  if I had the money and at least two years to set it up. I would need to do things like read more of the research from the last thirty years, set up a new questionnaire which takes account of the changes in communication technology and the influences of social media. I'd need to try that questionnaire out on a small sample and then on the population in question. The results would need to be analysed and more - all before I could write anything that might be of value to other people. 

No, I am not going to do that. I am going to leave it up to other people. What I will do is ask questions when they make vague generalisations or they tell me something which does not accord with my beliefs and my prejudices. When people tell me something I am going to ask them, "How do you know that? Is it true?" 

Monday 2 August 2021

Flying the flag

should not be a matter of controversy - but it seems it is.

One of the local councillors is stirring up controversy by saying that we need more flagpoles at the site of a war memorial. He says we need them because the indigenous flag should be flown at all times.

This is not how returned men see the issue. It has also divided the community.

Our flag is loved by some and hated by others. There are people who feel it is a representation of who and what we are. For others it is a symbol of our colonial past and they say we should be rid of it. 

When I was a mere kitten in primary school we had a weekly "saluting the flag" ceremony. We all stood there in rows and recited words which were supposed to impress on us that we all belonged under one flag. We knew what the history of the flag was. We could draw the Union Jack and then add the stars. I can remember being told how it brought us all together even if some people had been here much longer than most of our ancestors and some people had not even been born here.  We sang the national anthem of the day which was "God Save the Queen" and one or the other of our national songs. 

I don't know how much good all this did but it seems to me it was preferable to being faced with more than one flag and being told that one of them represents some of us and not others. That is divisive. It is not doing anything to prevent racism. It simply encourages it.

An indigenous friend of mine grew up knowing that two of his family fought in WWII. They risked their lives for their country. At the funeral of one there was a national flag on the coffin and the leader of the local RSL spoke very warmly about his friend. He regretted the way he had been treated immediately after the war but he went on to say that L.... had still been very proud to serve his country under the flag on the coffin. 

I may be wrong but I suspect that a good many other returned men who have indigenous heritage would feel the same way. They were not fighting under an "indigenous" flag. They were fighting under the national flag.  

My late friend R... would be appalled by this move. She saw the movement to expand the use of the indigenous flag as divisive. "That's not going to help us all rub along together", she once told me.  I think she is right. There's nothing wrong with the indigenous flag being flown at indigenous events but it is not our national flag. 

Our flag should represent our past and our present - and it does. As far as we can foresee the future it should also represent the future - and it does.  It's an interesting flag. It tells people something about us. That's the way it ought to be.  

Sunday 1 August 2021

Who needs Latin?

Oh come on! Who needs Latin? It's a dead language isn't it? Nobody uses it any more do they?

I am old enough that Latin was a compulsory subject if you wanted to go into either Law or Medicine. The Senior Cat studied Latin, English and History for his degree. (We worked under something like the more broadly based Scottish system at the time he did it.)

I grew up with lists of Latin vocabulary stuck to the shaving cabinet and the Senior Cat muttering the words as he wielded the razor each morning. He would sometimes say something to my mother in Latin - if he did not want us to understand. He had to stop that when I was about nine because both my brother and I had started to guess what was being said. 

We knew that the Catholics "talked Latin" at church. We thought the Pope talked Latin all the time.

When I was ten we went off to live in a then very remote community. My parents were the two teachers in the two teacher school. The Senior Cat decided it was time to teach me some Latin. 

I was not terribly impressed by the just published text book, "An Intermediate Latin Grammar" by JP Giles and EN Pfitzner. The Senior Cat knew both authors. He had actually spent a lot of time with Giles discussing what should and should not be in the book. I should have been far more impressed but I was not interested in soldiers and spears and war. Farmers were mentioned but where was all the useful vocabulary that would let me talk about sheep and wool and wheat? 

The Senior Cat persisted. He kept telling me, "It will be useful one day." 

He was right. Over the years I have used my Latin. I have, like so many Law students before me, used it to understand the meaning of a Latin phrase. When reading a medical report preparatory to working with medical personnel on a communication board I have used  it to understand a medical term. Occasionally I have come across an unfamiliar word elsewhere and understood it because I have recognised the Latin root. It has helped me understand languages like Italian, French, Portuguese and Spanish. I have seen written Sardinian and wondered if I was reading mediaeval Latin. 

A friend of mine who is a monk, while thoroughly approving the move away from the Latin mass to something people understand, also regrets not being able to walk into a Catholic church anywhere in the world and participate fully in the service. He has spent time in the Vatican library and is perhaps more fully immersed in the joys of Latin than anyone I know. For him Latin is a living language.

There is a move in England to reintroduce Latin into some state schools. Of course this has produced some fierce arguments but is it really any more a "waste of time" than teaching students a bare minimum of Chinese or Japanese, Thai or Korean? I suggest it is less a waste of time. Learning Latin can teach us a lot about our own language. It can prepare us for learning other languages. There is now far more awareness of the need for a vocabulary outside soldiers, spears and war.  

Professor Mary Beard has been advocating for a return of Latin to classrooms. She has also recognised the need to update what is taught and how it is taught. 

And, if you want some fun, go hunting for "Minimus Mouse" adding the search term "Latin" as well. Barbara Bell and Helen Forte have created a wonderful family of Latin speaking mice - and this Cat is becoming rather fond of them.